You’ve probably seen John Trumbull’s famous painting Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, but did you know his art led to one of today’s most popular charitable giving tools? (Who would have thought the Charitable Gift Annuity had such an illustrious past?)

One of the earliest and most famous CGAs happened in 1831 between Yale University and a penniless painter named John Trumbull. Despite having been commissioned to create four large works for the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., Trumbull was living widowed and poor, surrounded by nearly 100 paintings in his otherwise lonely apartment. When asked by a friend what he intended to do with the works, he decided to donate them to Yale in exchange for a “competent annuity for the remainder” of his life. His donation funded the first museum on any campus in the United States—the Trumbull Gallery—and the CGA earned its stripes in American history.

Just as the art arrangement implies, a CGA is a contract between a nonprofit and an individual who transfers their assets in return for an immediate (partial) tax deduction and an income stream for the remainder of the donor’s lifetime. CGA’s are well-loved because they also:

  • Provide the possibility of donating many types of assets: cash, securities plus personal property
  • Reduce or eliminate capital gains tax liability for gifts of appreciated securities and personal property
  • Allow you to support an organization while also providing for your own financial well-being.

One of the most remarkable things about John Trumbull isn’t that he earned the title of “The Painter of the Revolution,” or even that he served as General George Washington’s personal aid, it’s that he did it all with the use of only one eye.

Art critics believe this lifelong effect from a childhood injury is ultimately what influenced his detailed painting style. Today, millions of people continue to walk in Trumbull’s shoes, creatively impacting lives through smart charitable giving.

“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25